Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Top Of The Pops 2006

I was compiling my favourite songs of 2006 and I realised I was having a hard time coming up with the list. I'm not sure why, but it seemed as if there were very few truly outstanding songs last year. And like some of my friends have commented, there are hardly any good rock songs last year. The death of rock...

Well, after much deliberation, I have managed to come up with 18 of my favourite songs of 2006. granted, some of them were released in late 2005, but they only made an impact on me in 2006. So here they are...

18. Ain't No Other Man by Christina Aguilera

Taken off her Back To Basics double album, Ain't No Other Man is supposed to be a "throwback to the 20s, 30s and 40s-style jazz, blues and feel-good soul music, but with a modern twist." This homage is evident on both her album and single cover, as well as the opening strains of this song, which starts off with the brasses before Christina lets it all out with her amazing vocal prowess.

I didn't like this song initially because I felt that it was the usual Christina over-the-top vocal showcase. But truth is, I didn't get to listen to the song properly because I didn't have the mp3 and I wasn't listening to radio much.

The reason for the turnaround is because I feel that it is a very bold move by Christina to do something like that. She did indeed live up to her statement of giving the old jazz sounds a new twist, as this track sounds like nothing that you don't hear on the radio these days.

Not everyone will be able to pull something like this so spectacularly, and kudos must be given to Miss Christina-ex-Dirrty-Aguilera for not only making this one of the most unique songs of 2006, but also keeping up with the classy, dignified look that accompanies it.

17. Steady, As She Goes by The Raconteurs

Steady, As She Goes is the first single off The Raconteurs' debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers. You might be wondering on earth are The Raconteurs, but once I mention that the frontman is Jack White of The White Stripes, you'll be going "ohhh"...

But yeah, such is the fame and popularity of The White Stripes that you'll be expecting something good out of Jack White's side project. And it is good.

Steady, As She Goes is most memorable for its bass line hook, which according to the Wikipedia entry, is exactly the same as Joe Jackson's Is She Really Going Out With Him. Well, I have listened to them and while it is undeniably similar, there is a difference in one of the notes. Only one note.

The rhythm and feel of the hook is very very similar. Applying to what I've have learned in Media Law, there is therefore substantial similarity between the two songs to constitute copyright infringement.

Legalese aside, Steady As She Goes is an absolute cracker and it is quirky yet mainstream at the same time, unlike say Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, which is quirky but not mainstream.

This track is one of the less conventional rock songs that made it to my list, underscoring the notion that there were was a scarcity of good, balls-out rock songs last year. But it still rocks.

16. Irreplaceable by Beyonce

This song is one of the latest entries to make it to my list, because I wasn't really feeling it at first. But it is a grower and its simple and hummable melody sticks in your head after a while, especially the "To the left, to the left" lyric.

Irreplaceable is the third single off Beyonce's sophomore album. After lead single Deja Vu fizzled and follow-up Ring The Alarm simply tanked, B'Day was desperately in need of a certified hit.

Along came this track, which has dominated the Hot 100 for the past four weeks already, becoming Beyonce's fourth number one solo single and eighth overall including those she scored with Destiny's Child.

Beyonce's delivery here is restrained and controlled, and that's wise cos it would otherwise threaten to marr a simple and beautiful song with a winning melody. I was waiting for Beyonce to churn out a solid hit, given her track record and talent, and I'm glad she didn't disappoint with this one.

15. Ever The Same by Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas was the frontman of popular American rock band Matchbox Twenty. After tasting success with his collabo with Santana on Smooth, he decided to venture out on his own and released his first solo album, ...Something To Be.

First single Lonely No More was ok, but it was just ok. I have never heard the second single, This Is How A Heart Breaks before. But this third single totally blew me away with its simple melody and lyrics. Another case of third time lucky yah.

I really fell in love with the song after Thomas performed it at the 2005/6 American Music Awards, where he did an acoustic version, which I feel is so much better than the album version in terms of the musical arrangement.

But the melody remains as lovely as ever and it's good enough for me to remember it twelve months after its release to include in this list.

14. Every Day Is Exactly The Same by Nine Inch Nails

I've never been a Nine Inch Nails fan until Dave Grohl guest drummed for their With Teeth album. That album is pretty good. Of course, it spawned my number three song of 2005, The Hand That Feeds, as well as second hit single, Only.

Every Day Is Exactly The Same is a totally different animal from the previous two tracks and it is a slow-burning ballad. It's a ballad, but not in the traditional way. It is broody and angsty and talks about how every day is exactly the same (duh!). Pretty much how I felt when I was doing my internship earlier this year.

Frontman Trent Reznor is known for being a meticulous perfectionist and his programming skills are put to the forefront here. I really love the drum and bass programming on this song. The whole soundscape is awe-inspiring and it's the perfect companion on your way to work.

13. Resolve by Foo Fighters

While not one of the Foos' best songs, it is nevertheless a worthy entry to this list. This song is a slow burner but it did grow on me after time. It's not very hard rocking, but it was included on the "rock" side of their double album, In Your Honor, rather than on the "acoustic" side.

The riff is quite simple and there's nothing really special about the beat. But it's the last third of the song that really gets me in, with the layering of the guitar riff and the counter-melody together, creating a nice "conversation" with each other.

12. Dirty Harry by Gorillaz

This was from the Gorillaz's Demon Days album, which had already produced the mega hit Feel Good Inc. and minor hit DARE. As catchy as Feel Good Inc. was, I love Dirty Harry's groove more.

There isn't much of a tune here as most of the song is instrumental-driven, but it is the bassline that moves the song along. Add in a chorus sung by a kids' choir and a funky rap by De La Soul and you have a winner.

11. Breakdown by Jack Johnson

I have never heard of Jack Johnson until 2006 and I must say that it is the biggest discovery of the year for me. I had caught a few of his tunes on radio unwittingly but I didn't know they were sung by him, and it was not until the name Jack Johnson kept popping up a few times here and there that I began to take notice of this guy.

This song is from his third studio album, In Between Dreams. The other songs that I like on the album are Sitting, Waiting, Wishing and Better Together. In fact, I think In Between Dreams might be my favourite album of the year.

But I think the song that really got me hooked on Jack Johnson's music was Breakdown, with its tender Hawaiian guitar intro and Johnson's soothing voice. Listening to it just puts me in a good mood immediately for the rest of the day.

It's a really melodious song and I love songs that have a good melody, which explains why I'm not mad about hip hop and most R&B.

10. The 3 R's by Jack Johnson

Since I can't include all my favourite Jack Johnson songs in this list, I shall restrict myself to just two and place them side by side.

This song is taken off the soundtrack for 2-D animated film Curious George, and it was not released as a single. The reason why it's in my list is because I heard it in HMV in Hong Kong earlier this year and I was immediately captivated by it. The lyrics are witty and cute, talking about of all things, the 3 R's, namely: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!

How often do you have songs promoting environmental-friendly practices so blatantly yet you still lap it up? This is one rare case and it's testament of Jack Johnson's charm and wit. It doesn't always make sense but you love it somehow.

Here's the first verse of the song:

Three it's a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number
Because two times three is six
And three times six is eighteen
And the eighteenth letter in the alphabet is R

This then links to the 3R's mentioned earlier. But why start off with 2 x 3 and then follow with 3 x 6? If 3 is the magic number, shouldn't it be 3 x 3, then 3 x 6?

Haha, I'm not complaining but rather, pointing out the beauty of the song. It's exactly because you don't have to take it too seriously and just allow yourself to be a kid and be charmed by the simplicity of the song that you can enjoy it. It's a sing-a-long and lullaby for a kid's cartoon after all!

9. Tell Me Baby by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Taken off their hugely successful Stadium Arcadium double album, Tell Me Baby is the only "traditional" rock song in my list. You can always expect great things from the Peppers, and while first sngle Dani California was quite a big hit, it didn't really hook me as much as Tell Me Baby did.

Maybe it's the repetitive guitar riff; maybe it's Flea's bass playing; maybe it's the trademark harmony vocals from John Frusciante Whatever it is, this song is damn catchy and features a blistering but all-too-brief guitar solo. Let's hope they tour Singapore again and rock the house down again!

8. Jump by Madonna

I never thought that this song would make it to my list because it is relatively obscure and hasn't been receiving much airplay or mentions in the press. But I love the beat and melody of the song, and I think it's very well-produced. In fact, Madonna's albums are always very well produced.

Jump doesn't top Hung Up but it stands tall in its own right. It's a good single to wrap up the Confessions On A Dance Floor project and it ensures that Madonna is on the right track after the disastrous album that was American Life.

7. Ugly by Sugababes

I've been a fan of the babes ever since their first single, Overload, in 2000. The fact that their lineup keeps changing doesn't bother me. Since their formation in 2000, they have released four studio albums and one singles collection, and undergone two lineup changes with only Keisha Buchanan from the original trio.

The fact is that they have managed to sound consistent and so have their hits. Ugly is one fine track written and produced by Dallas Austin, who also produced TLC's Unpretty, which dealt with similar themes.

The lyrics are good and the tune is catchy. One of my fave Sugababes songs ever.

6. Because Of You by Kelly Clarkson

After giving me my number one song of 2005, Kelly Clarkson returns with a sad but poignant ballad, Because Of You. This is one of the few remaining songs on radio that can truly be classified as a singable song. What's a singable song then?

Well, these days, many of the pop songs on radio are composed mainly of beats and synthesised beats, and singers don't have to do that much "singing" anymore (think Hollaback Girl, Fergilicious, SexyBack etc etc). Most of them are just rapping or spouting lyrics along and if you were to take an instrumental version of the song, you'll realise that you won't be able to sing the song without sounding bad.

So Because Of You is one of the very few remaining songs in the tradition of classical singers like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, where you can actually sing to an instrumental track of the song. And that's why I like the song.

It's well-delivered, as expected of an American Idol winner, and it really moves you. And when Kelly Clarkson performed this song at last year's Grammys, she proved to everyone that she has graduated from being just an American Idol to a bonafide superstar.

5. Hips Don't Lie by Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean

Shakira was huge last year, and this hit was inescapable. Look beyond her gyrating and honest hips and you have a song that is really catchy and unique. From the blaring horn intro to Wyclef Jean's rap outro, the song never lets up in excitement and hooks you all the way through.

It fuses Shakira's Latin roots with Wyclef's Top 40 pop sensibilities and it creates a sound that is unique to Shakira, Shakira. Definitely the catchiest song of 2006.

4. My Love by Justin Timberlake featuring T.I.

This is Justin's second number one hit in a row, and it's featured on many music magazines' year end lists as well. The song is such a big hit not mainly because of Timberlake but Timbaland. Timbaland, for the uninitiated, is the maestro manning the boards for FutureSex/LoveSounds.

Timbaland said in an interview that there were "whispers of the T-word flying around" just before the album's release. The T-word of course refers to Thriller, Michael Jackson's masterpiece, which remains the biggest-selling album of all time with more than 46 million copies sold worldwide.

Times have changed since 25 years ago and albums simply don't sell as much as they used to. What Timberlake and Timbaland are trying to achieve with FutureSex/LoveSounds is not to match Thriller in terms of sales, but in terms of critical acclaim and world domination.

So far, it seems to be working. The album has spawned two number hits (just like Thriller's Billie Jean and Beat It), topped the charts all over the world, Justin opened the MTV VMAs with a scorching performance, and the album has been very well-reviewed.

However, in terms of Grammy adulation, it has fallen short, garnering only 4 nominations (whereas Thriller won 7 Grammy Awards in 1984). And I would argue that MJ is technically a much better singer than Justin.

My main grouse with My Love is that there are certain verses where Justin is a little flat, and his voice is rather thin when singing the verses. He needs to overlay his vocals to make them sound whole and strong, whereas with MJ, you can really hear the quality of his voice without any overdubs. Just listen to Billie Jean or Beat It for evidence.

So why am I going on and on with this Justin vs MJ debacle here? The reason is that I admire both of them, and to me, Justin is the modern day MJ, but Justin will never supplant MJ in my books in terms of his talent or achievements.

Justin is the new king of pop, without a doubt, and the fact that he can align himself with talented producers like Timbaland (who's arguably the modern day Quincy Jones) and come up with a hit like My Love, shows his influence and position in the musical landscape today.

My Love is, essentially, a song crafted by Timbaland's beats, and it's in this list because of that and not because of Justin's vocal delivery. But it is the case of perfect marriage between singer and producer that has delivered this hit.

When Justin opened last year's VMAs with My Love, I was blown away completely. He was fluid and unbelievable and I wish I could do those moves too. Then there was that insane music video which featured those killer dance moves as well as impossible camera angles. Based on those two events, a place in my Top 5 was assured.

3. Promiscuous by Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland

Promiscuous is one song that I liked immediately the first time I heard it. There are very few songs that would make me feel this way, as most songs take a few spins before I would even consider liking them.

In its essence, Promiscuous is a duet between Nelly Furtado and Timbaland. In the song, the two of them trade verses and choruses equally, unlike other collaborations between say, Justin and T.I. on My Love, where T.I. appears only on the rap portion of the song. That's what I would call Justin featuring T.I. In this case, Timbaland should share equal credit with Nelly Furtado.

Technicalities aside, Promiscuous is one hell of a catchy and sexy song. It's a brand new Nelly Furtado and Timbaland has indeed rejuvenated her, bringing out a side of her that we never expected.

Once again, Timbaland deserves credit for making this song as big as it is, and it is a beat-driven song. The beats are out of this world, and no one can resist dancing to this. Well, at least I can't.

2. SexyBack by Justin Timberlake featuring Timbaland

"I'm bringing sexy back", claims Justin. But what if sexy never left? Whatever he says, everyone believes him, and he does bring a certain sense of style and sexiness to the music scene.

The first time I listened to it, I didn't know what to make of it. It was a radical departure from the material of his Justified album. It was tuneless and I wasn't even sure if those were Justin's vocals because of the effects applied to his voice.

Once again (I'm already tired of saying this), Timbaland does a marvellous job of producing the synth sounds and beats. It's really ground-breaking and refreshing, something different from the stale hip-hop beats that we've become numb to.

His vocal trade-offs with Justin are as important and he has more lines than Justin in the chorus! Another case of the "duet" vs "feature" label. But to his credit, Justin does give Timbaland props, roping him to appear in both the SexyBack and My Love music videos, as well as sharing the stage for the VMAs. Justin knows that he wouldn't be half as successful without Timbaland.

I did have a hard time deciding between SexyBack and Promiscuous being number 2 and 3, as both of them were equally addictive and danceable and groundbreaking, but SexyBack edged out Promiscuous probably because it features one line that I really love..."You ready?"

1. Enjoy by Janet Jackson

Call me biased if you want, but Enjoy is my number one song of 2006. Even though it was never formally released as a single, it was released as a promo in Japan where it has received substantial airplay.

Enjoy was one of the songs that was leaked before the album's release, and I'll never forget the feeling I got the first time I heard it. Not to be melodramatic, but I felt so happy and uplifetd that I could cry. Really.

The bassline groove is killer, and the chorus is beautiful. The lyrics are very meaningful as well. And the ending features a bunch of cute kids chanting the chorus and going "Enjoy, la-la-la-la-la, enjoy, la-la-la-la-la". Very very nice.

It was one song that I loved the first time I heard it, even more than Promiscuous. I remember feeling that this was a song that needs to be released, that the world needs to hear. I really hope Janet will release this song as a single and shoot a really happy and classic music video to go with it. Enjoy NEEDS to be heard.

And with that, you have my top 18 songs of 2006. It has been a good year for pop but not for rock. I forsee the trend to continue into 2007 as well. But as long as there are still good pop records, I'm not complaining too much. 12 more months till the next list then!


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